written by:
photos by:
May 16, 2011
Originally published in Beach Houses We Love

On a quest to create a weekend house for herself and her husband, Nancy Church scaled back her design fantasies and discovered creative ways to build on a budget.

Modern weekend home with Pac-Clad metal cladding
The home’s metal cladding is Pac-Clad, a material typically used for roofs.
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Living room view of second story with two lofts joined by a steel bridge
To create a sense of luxury on a budget, the architect ran a thin concrete border along either side of the fireplace flue and flanked it with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The second story has two lofts joined by a steel bridge.
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Nancy Church by her Jean Nouvel design-inspired steel staircase
Church wanted a steel staircase inspired by a Jean Nouvel design. Her architect and contractor collaborated on an economical version that is used both inside and out.
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Modern loft with sleek frosted glass sliding doors and ParaGear curtains
Sleek frosted glass sliding doors partition off the back sleeping loft for privacy without impeding light. They also lend the space an ethereal demeanor, which is echoed in the translucent curtains made of parachute fabric from ParaGear.
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MDF bookshelf clad in bamboo veneer
A close-up of the bookshelves made of MDF clad in bamboo veneer.
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Nancy Church and Charlie Jett in the front loft upstairs
Church and Jett use the front loft for both work and play, thanks to a vintage mid-century desk that converts to a game table.
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Mid-century game desk table with purple padded wire chairs
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Balcony with Mermet sun sails and Veranda man-made planks
Mermet sun sails inspired by the nearby harbor shield Church and Jett from harsh sunlight, while practical, man-made planks by Veranda simulate wood but offer low maintenance and longevity. Bright orange Butterfly chairs from Circa50 add a pop of color.
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Kitchen with frosted-glass cabinets with Zilotek lights
Frosted TipChurch wanted open shelving above the kitchen counters, but DeSalvo convinced her to go with Ikea cabinets with frosted-glass doors to ensure a uniform look. He installed inexpensive strip LED lights by Zilotek on the top inside edge of the cabinets to provide ambient illumination and silhouette the contents inside.
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Dining table area with Quantus halogen pendant fixtures
Extra FrostingDeSalvo designed a dramatically long, lean light fixture to hang over Church’s dining table out of simple off-the-shelf components from Menards. Four halogen pendant fixtures by Quantus hang in a row over a large, rectangular frosted-glass panel, which in turn is suspended from the ceiling on cables held in place with shelving brackets. Total cost: less than $200. menards.com
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Perforated bent steel plated staircase with galvanized handrails and posts
Nouvel Approach When the Nouvel staircase proved too costly to copy, DeSalvo designed an affordable version. The treads are perforated bent steel plates that appear to float on a support tube, while the railings are made from tension cables and galvanized handrails and posts. It offers a similar level of architectural impact and sense of transparency at relatively low cost (both stairways, plus a matching catwalk, came in at $6,000).
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Balcony with Mermet sun sails and Veranda man-made planks
Epic SailTo reduce heat load and provide shade, DeSalvo initially tracked down a sail system from Sun Shade Australia. But the $6,000 price tag had the architect and contractor designing their own version out of Mermet solar screen fabric. It was fabricated by Covers Unlimited for $1,800. coversunlimitedinc.com
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Modern weekend home with Pac-Clad metal cladding
The architect covered the exterior in Pac-Clad, a metal roofing material, because it's "cost-effective, durable, maintenance-free, and comes in various colors," says Church.
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Yard with tall lush plants
A view of Church and Jett's lush yard.
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Outdoor area with long wood bench
Jett seeks cell phone reception.
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Nancy Church preparing food in her kitchen
Church prepares a healthy lunch.
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Brown leather weathered Corbusier daybed in the front upstairs loft
In addition to a desk that doubles as a game table, the front upstairs loft houses a weathered leather Corbusier daybed.
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Living room with black leather butterfly chairs and a concrete-edged fireplace
A pair of black leather butterfly chairs face off with Corbusier ottomans in front of the concrete-edged fireplace.
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Nancy Church knitting
Church, who specializes in robotic assisted surgery, is also a skilled knitter.
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Charlie Jett rolling dough on a butcher sliding block
Jett rolls dough on a butcher block-topped storage unit that slides under the countertop to save space.
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Wooden dining table and bench joinery
A closer look at the dining table and bench joinery.
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Padded steel-and-metal bench with orange legs in living room
A padded steel-and-metal bench runs the width of the living room, crossing below the television and in front of a ten-foot-high window. Despite the many design compromises Church had to make to accommodate her limited budget, "windows were the only items not up for discussion... they were the most costly items in the house."
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Gray-tiled bathroom with sliding door
Early on in the design process, Church had to forgo her fantasy of concrete floors with radiant heat and a cast-concrete sink. But her gray-tiled bathroom satisfies her concrete-loving aesthetic at a much lower price point.
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Bedroom with patterned textiles and linens
Church and Jett's bed is splashed with eclectic textiles and linens.
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Jean Nouvel-inspired staircase outside
The second Jean Nouvel-inspired staircase lives outside, clinging to the side of the house and leading up to the roof deck, where there's a hot tub shaded by sun sails.
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Modern weekend home with Pac-Clad metal cladding
The home’s metal cladding is Pac-Clad, a material typically used for roofs.
Project 
Church Residence
Architect 

Nancy Church, a Chicago-based gynecologic surgeon, always wanted a serene beach house where she could unwind from the stresses of her job. But with a thriving practice that keeps her close to the hospital, a large circle of friends, and a considerable collection of contemporary art and mid-century furniture, she had a few nonnegotiables. “It had to be nearby, budget-conscious, flexible, big enough for guests, and aesthetically suitable for my things,” says the doctor. To accomplish the task, she tapped her friend, local architect and fellow modernist John DeSalvo. Here, she tells us how they collaborated on a home that more than met her criteria.

I’ve renovated practically every place I’ve ever lived, but I’ve never had the chance to create a home from scratch. I spent a long time looking for the right spot to build a weekend retreat. In 2005, a colleague told me about a piece of property in Michigan City, Indiana. It was just an hour and ten minutes away from my Chicago condo, so a week later I grabbed John, and we ran to see it. We hadn’t yet worked together but had been close friends for 13 years and share the same aesthetic. I met him when I lived in a Bertrand Goldberg building and he came to rent my apartment but ended up buying his own.

Nancy Church by her Jean Nouvel design-inspired steel staircase
Church wanted a steel staircase inspired by a Jean Nouvel design. Her architect and contractor collaborated on an economical version that is used both inside and out.
The lot was five minutes from the beach on the side of a dune. At the time, it seemed perfect because it was wooded and about fifteen feet higher than street level, so it felt private. It was on the small side—–just 120 by 50 feet—–but it was a great value for the price at $50,000. Just three blocks farther north on the lake, and it would have been a million dollars.

The project started out as a typical construction story full of drawbacks and dilemmas. We got a builder from the real estate agent, and it cost about 30 percent more than originally estimated to clear and grade the land. Then we unexpectedly had to put up retaining walls to keep the dune from shifting. That made the building footprint even tighter and eliminated any fiscal wiggle room. So we had to figure out how to maximize the lot and our program to get everything in.

Living room view of second story with two lofts joined by a steel bridge
To create a sense of luxury on a budget, the architect ran a thin concrete border along either side of the fireplace flue and flanked it with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The second story has two lofts joined by a steel bridge.
At first I wanted glass walls; concrete floors with radiant heat; a cast-concrete countertop and sink in the kitchen; high ceilings; a porch; and a stairway modeled after the floating perforated steel one that Jean Nouvel designed for the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris. I’d just been there on my honeymoon with my husband, Charlie Jett, and we fell in love with it and took a lot of pictures to show John. We also decided to have two sleeping lofts on the second floor, connected by a glass catwalk.

John’s design for the house hugs the edge of the available ground space, which gives us about 850 square feet on the first floor and another 550 on the second. He came up with the idea of putting the porch on the roof and a steel staircase on the outside of the house so it would be accessible from the sleeping loft. Putting the porch up there also made it private enough for a hot tub. I suggested we use sails for shade. The sun gets pretty harsh here in the summer, and all the boats in the nearby harbor inspired me.

Modern loft with sleek frosted glass sliding doors and ParaGear curtains
Sleek frosted glass sliding doors partition off the back sleeping loft for privacy without impeding light. They also lend the space an ethereal demeanor, which is echoed in the translucent curtains made of parachute fabric from ParaGear.
We chose the materials inside and out for their economy and aesthetics. John suggested we use Pac-Clad, a metal roofing material, for the exterior because it’s cost-effective, durable, maintenance-free, and comes in various colors. It also has seamed ridges that make it look like it’s made out of planks, which pays homage to the vernacular here—there are wood barns everywhere. We chose metallic silver because it would be more reflective and keep the house cooler.

By the time we were ready to break ground, it had been a year and a half since we cleared the lot, and the builder was missing in action. We heard he went bankrupt. We found Patrick Poland through friends, and he was a godsend. He has this encyclopedic knowledge of the area, so we were able to find subcontractors to make almost everything locally.

Nancy Church and Charlie Jett in the front loft upstairs
Church and Jett use the front loft for both work and play, thanks to a vintage mid-century desk that converts to a game table.
After we priced things out, we realized we had to cut down on anything custom. The concrete floors with radiant heat and cast kitchen sink had to go. They were way too expensive. Patrick found a local and economical concrete contractor to do the fireplace, chimney stack, outside stairs, back patio, and another wall along the dune behind the house for extra stability.

He was also able to find a steel fabricator to make the staircases, though John had to modify the design using perforated steel and tension steel rope, and eliminate the glass in the catwalk, to make it affordable. They used the same railing system to edge the catwalk and sleeping lofts. Our  bedroom is lined with floor-to-ceiling frosted sliding glass doors for privacy, but the other one is totally open to the living area below it.

The kitchen is a combination of Ikea upper cabinets and stock MDF cabinets that John clad with bamboo veneers. I came up with an idea to double our counter space. Two storage units under the countertop roll out and are topped with butcher block, so they become food prep islands. John clad the MDF shelves and cabinets surrounding the fireplace with the same bamboo veneers we used in the kitchen, which gives them a very luxurious, custom-made feel.

Balcony with Mermet sun sails and Veranda man-made planks
Mermet sun sails inspired by the nearby harbor shield Church and Jett from harsh sunlight, while practical, man-made planks by Veranda simulate wood but offer low maintenance and longevity. Bright orange Butterfly chairs from Circa50 add a pop of color.

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